Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1

I’ve been thinking lately about the biggest roadblocks to small group ministry; the things that stand in the way of a truly thriving small group ministry.  See also, 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

Here are what I believe are the top 5 roadblocks:

  1. A doubtful or conflicted senior pastor.
  2. A bloated belong and become menu.
  3. Indecision about the best next step.
  4. A myopic understanding of the culture.
  5. A leadership development disconnect

Roadblock #1: a doubtful or conflicted senior pastor

As I’ve said many times, building a thriving small group ministry absolutely depends on a senior pastor who is the champion, the face of grouplife.  In every church where small group ministry thrives, the senior pastor is the main spokesperson.  In nearly every instance where small group ministry struggles or fails, the senior pastor is doubtful about the essential role of life-on-life ministry or conflicted about the best way to connect and disciple people.

Doubtful about the essential role of life-on-life: Sometimes a senior pastor has never really thought about the way life-change really happens.  Taking for granted that the weekend message or the weekend worship service provides 100% of the minimum requirements for spiritual growth turns a blind eye to the one-anothers of the Bible.  See also, The Primary Activity of the Early Church.

Solution: Admittedly, this is a very tough sell.  What’s the work-around?  I think part of it is to simply live it yourself and constantly tell stories of authentic life-change as they happen.  There’s no substitute for you modeling the real thing.  It does help in some instances to point out the personal stories of high-profile pastors like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, and Bill Hybels.  You need to do that carefully and with wisdom.  It is compelling evidence when you hear or read the personal accounts of some of America’s most highly regarded preachers talk about the power of life-on-life.  FYI: I am working on a post with quotes from many prominent senior pastors about the essential aspect of life-on-life.

Conflicted about the best way to connect and disciple people:

Sometimes a senior pastor has come to conclusion that life-change happens with some blend of weekend service and a life-on-life ingredient…but is conflicted about the best way to connect and disciple people.  When that happens a senior pastor will almost always see the need to equally promote all of the available options (i.e., on-campus classes like Precepts or Bible Study Fellowship, specialized and intensive discipleship programs like MasterLife, the Real Life Discipleship Manual or a homegrown option, etc.).

Solution: I think some combination of a discussion about the degree of difficulty in choosing from too large a menu and an awareness of the precarious position of unconnected people will help.  Not easy, but any means, but a necessary discussion.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions, How to Make Next Steps Easier to Choose, and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

The other 4 roadblocks (and solutions)?  You can read about roadblock #2 right here.  Be sure you’re signed up for my blog to get the latest.  You can do that right here.

What do you think?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Top 10 Posts of December 2013

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts of December, 2013.  Breaking a string that goes back several months, only one of December’s top 10 posts was written in December of 2013.  The other nine?  They are from the archives and generated new interest when another post referred to them.  Additionally, I tweet 3 or 4 different posts from the archives almost every day.  If you’re not following me on Twitter, you can do that right here.

  1. Top 5 January/February Church-Wide Campaigns for 2014 (October, 2013)
  2. 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry (December, 2012)
  3. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  4. Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions (January, 2013)
  5. Essential Ingredients for Life-Change (September, 2009)
  6. How to Connect People No One Else is Connecting (May, 2010)
  7. Think Steps, Not Programs (March, 2011)
  8. Reading List for Christmas 2013 (December, 2013)
  9. The Pursuit of Problem-Free (January, 2009)
  10. Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System (February, 2011)

Dilbert on Being Wise as a Serpent

Sometimes you need to be wise as a serpent…in order to get your way:

wise as serpents

Here Are My Small Group Ministry Resolutions for 2014

You may not need to get in shape or pay down your credit cards, but you probably ought to be making some small group ministry resolutions for 2014.  Do you have yours figured out?

Because you’re part of the tribe here, you know you’ll have to do something different if you want to end up in a different place.  And you know that your current ministry design determines your results.  See also, The Perils of the Well-Worn Path and Different, Not Better, Will Connect the Widening 60%.

Here are my small group ministry resolutions for 2014:

  • Recognize that if we want to connect people no one else is connecting we’ll need to do things no one else is doing.  Some things are just self-evident.  Isn’t this one of them?  Isn’t it obvious that if what you’re already doing is sufficient…it would have already connected everybody?  See also, How to Connect People No One Else Is Connecting.
  • Create even easier first steps out of the auditorium that lead to toe-in-the-water opportunities for community. We saw the wisdom of this idea in 2013.  For people who freely admit that it took them a long time to finally come to our church, we must anticipate that it will be very difficult for them to ever try out a small group that meets in a stranger’s living room.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People In Mind.
  • Increase our commitment to make it easy to take first steps into hosting a small group and nearly automatic to take the steps that lead to becoming an authentic shepherd.  We must be committed to both parts of the equation.  Easy to begin.  Nearly automatic to develop as a shepherd leader.  See also, Teacher, Leader, Shepherd, Host: What’s In a Name?
  • Increase our commitment to identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity leaders of leaders.  We know that whatever we want to happen in the lives of group members must happen first in the lives of group leaders.  How will that happen if we aren’t investing in leaders of leaders?  Whether we call them coaches, mentors, or community leaders…this is an essential ingredient to true small group ministry success.  See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #Fail.
  • Invest ourselves in the mission of making disciples who make disciples.  It’s about curriculum.  It’s about the group environment itself.  And it’s about doing the right things to and for our small group leaders (and coaches).  It is not about hoping it happens or wishful thinking.  It’s about a path, not an intent.  See also, Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries That Make Disciples.
  • Make a habit of asking, “How might we….?”  We must learn to ask great questions as we’re doing what we’re doing.  Clearly, the best way to do almost everything we want to do…hasn’t been discovered!  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions.

What will your small group ministry resolutions be?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Here’s a Sample Recommended Study List

An important resource for your small group leaders is a recommended or approved study list.  Having a recommended list will help in several ways:

  • Gives leaders an easy way to find their next study
  • Makes recommending a next study easy
  • Encourages your groups to use studies that are consistent with your theology
  • Emphasizes important concepts and practices

A sample recommended study list could be as simple as this:

Getting Started

Topical Studies

Bible Book Studies

Men’s Studies

Women’s Studies

 

Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist

Everyone knows that before you take your car on a road trip…you really should do more than fill up the gas tank.  You might check the tire pressure and take it in for an oil change.  You might decide it’s time for new windshield wipers or even a new set of tires.

Getting ready for the next leg in your small group ministry adventure?  Maybe it’s time you took your ministry through my signature 10 point checklist!

  1. Review your small group ministry’s present state.  There are a number of ways you can think about the way things are right now.  An accurate understanding of where you are right now is essential no matter where you want to go.  See also, Diagnosing a Small Group Ministry and The Four Helpful Lists by Tom Paterson.
  2. Review (or create) your end in mind for your ideal small group.  What kinds of groups do you want for every member of a group?  Are there certain activities and habits?  Are there certain experiences?  What do you want it to feel like to be part of a small group in your system?  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.
  3. Review (or create) your preferred future for the kind of small group leader you dream of producing.  Spend some time thinking about the kind of leaders you will need to have in order to create the micro-environments that actually encourage life-change.  See also, From Here to There: The Preferred Future for Small Group Leaders.
  4. Review (or create) your annual grouplife calendar.  Have you planned to take advantage of the best opportunities to connect unconnected people?  Have you built in the steps that will allow you to maximize impact?  Or have you compromised and compressed timelines in a way that will lessen impact?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  5. Evaluate your current coaching team.  Do you have high-capacity, hundred and sixty-fold players on the team?  Or have you compromised and added thirty-fold players who struggle to accomplish their mission?  Have you settled for warm-and-willing when hot-and-qualified is needed?  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.
  6. Evaluate your current plan to develop the coaches on your team.  Remember, whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of your small group leaders.  If that’s true, then whatever you want to happen in the lives of your leaders must happen first in the lives of your coaches.  Can you see where this is going?  Assuming that your coaches will develop themselves is short sighted and compromises the integrity of your system.  See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Coaches.
  7. Evaluate (or create) your plan to develop your existing small group leaders.  I am a fan of a very low entry bar of leadership…but the word “entry” is a very important word.  I also know that lowering the bar and recruiting HOSTs won’t often put shepherds into the system.  It will usually put people who are willing to open up their home.  If you want to make it easy to begin as a host, you’ve got to make it nearly automatic that new hosts step onto a leader development conveyor belt that moves them in the direction you want them to go.  Don’t have the conveyor belt?  Now’s the time to build it!  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.
  8. Evaluate your existing leaders in search of potential coaches.  Look over your list for high capacity leaders who may be able to put their toe in the water of caring for another new leader or two.  Your best coaching candidates are almost always leading their own group and doing a great job.  Inviting them to test-drive the coaching role by helping mentor a new leader or two is a great way to let them put a toe-in-the-water.  See also, What If Your Coaching Structure Looked Like This?
  9. Take a careful look at the next connecting event you’ve got planned.  Will you take advantage of the next optimum time to connect people?  Do you have several weeks of promotion built in?  Have you designed the event to appeal to unconnected people?  Have you chosen a study that will peak the interest of unconnected people?  Have you already chosen a great follow-up study?  See also, 6 Essential Components of a Small Group Launch.
  10. Evaluate (or create) your recommended study list.  One of the most helpful tools you can provide for small group leaders is a recommended study list.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate.  It can begin as simply as a top 10 list.  It can exist as a page on your website or a simple handout that you keep updated.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches

Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.

Some things are self evident, aren’t they?  If you want the members of your groups to know what it’s like to be prayed for, to be cared for, to be loved unconditionally, to be challenged appropriately…their leaders absolutely must have already experienced that.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Here’s the thing.  Your small group leaders can only give away what they’ve personally experienced.  The question is, how will that happen?  Think you can pull them off the shelf that way?  Nope.  You must know that whatever you want your leaders to be able to give away, you will need to give your coaches.

Remember, very little about coaching has to do with teaching technique to leaders.  Once a leader has been leading their group for more than about 90 days…what they really need is someone a few steps ahead who will help them grow in Christ.  See also, How Much of Coaching Is About Technique?

7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches

  1. Get to know your coaches.  Whatever else you do, ask questions.  Find out about their families and friends, their work, their hobbies, and their hopes.  Take notes.  Nothing says you’re actually listening like remembering to ask about it the next time you talk.
  2. Meet with your coaches both individually and as a group.  It will always be tempting to use email as the way you connect and distribute information or assignments.  Don’t fall for it.  Meet for coffee.  Meet for lunch.  Meet for coffee and dessert.  If you have an agenda, make doing life together the number one agenda item.
  3. Get out of town with your coaches.  Take a Friday night and Saturday morning.  Bring along a movie to watch and games to play and plenty to eat.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive get away.  It doesn’t even need to be very far away.  Just far enough to make spending the night the only option.
  4. Memorize scripture verses or passage with your coaches.  Choose verses that apply to spiritual growth or maturity.  Make the assignment regularly.  Check progress.  Make a game out of it.
  5. Develop your coaches’ spiritual habits.  Share what you do in your quiet time.  Talk about what God is saying to you.  Ask your coaches what God is saying to them.  Model a lifestyle they can pass on to the leaders in their coaching huddle.  See also, 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders and 8 Habits of Life-Exchanging Small Group Leaders.
  6. Do a study with your coaches.  Choose a study that will stretch them and you.  Meet monthly to discuss and apply.  One of my favorite studies for this is Fully Devoted and another is Simplicity.
  7. Read a book with your coaches.  Choose a book that will open your coach’s eyes to leadership principles.  Some of my favorites are Practically RadicalThe Leadership Challenge, and Good to Great.  Give a reading assignment and meet monthly to talk over learnings and applications.

What do you think? Have an idea to add? Want to argue? Got a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Top 10 Small Group Curriculum Reviews of 2013

Looking for great studies to add to your approved list?  Here are the top 10 curriculum reviews from 2013:

  1. New from David Morlan and D.A. Carson: The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In
  2. New from Andy Stanley: Christian: It’s Not What You Think
  3. Add “Pressure Points” to Your Church-Wide Campaign Short List
  4. New from Priscilla Shirer: Gideon: Your Weakness, God’s Strength
  5. New from Rick Warren and Saddleback: What On Earth Am I Here For?
  6. New from People of the Second Chance: Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide to Freedom
  7. New from J.D. Greear: The Gospel According to Jonah
  8. New from Jen Hatmaker: The 7 Experiment: Staging Your Own Mutiny Against Excess
  9. Follow Me: A Powerful New DVD-Driven Study and Church-Wide Campaign
  10. Real Win: A New DVD-Driven Study featuring Colt McCoy and Matt Carter

Merry Christmas!

christmas palmsI hope you have a very Merry Christmas…full of great conversations, special moments with family and friends, and a strong sense of the presence of Jesus.  May He be all day and everyday the greatest present!

mark

Top Posts of 2013 (1-10)

I looked back over the year and put together a list of my top 10 posts written in 2013.*

You may not realize this, but there are almost 1300 posts here at MarkHowellLive.com.  I’ll cross the 1300 threshold in the next 2 weeks.  Thanks for coming along!

Here are my top 10 posts written in 2013.

  1. 6 Communication Mistakes that Limit Ministry Effectiveness
  2. Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change
  3. New from David Morlan and D.A. Carson: The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In
  4. Top 5 January/February Church-Wide Campaigns for 2014
  5. 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People
  6. 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry**
  7. Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups.
  8. Skill Training: Healthy Groups Integrate Four Components into Every Gathering
  9. Required Reading for Small Group Pastors and Directors (Systems)**
  10. 5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience

Here is #11 to #20.

*My monthly Top 10 Posts series lists the most viewed posts in a given month regardless of when they were written.

**Published in the last week of 2012